As the calendar turned over today, it is now exactly 86 days until the first pitch of the 2020 Major League Baseball season. With each new season, fantasy baseball players have the opportunity to do countless hours of research, perform in-depth analysis and complete endless mock drafts, only to lose in the playoffs to the person who auto-drafts their entire team.
In an effort to save you some time and give you someone to blame when things go bad, I have put together a list of five deep sleepers that might help you get out of the first round of the playoffs. Every Wednesday for the next five Wednesdays I’ll give you an in-depth analysis of players that could be game-changers and maybe even league winners in 2020. In an effort to maximize value and to differentiate from the other 7,000 sleeper lists you’ll read before your draft, I am only going to be looking at players who have an ADP of 200 or higher (NFBC). This is essentially the 17th round of a 12-team draft. At this point, you’ve drafted the majority of your team and can afford a lottery ticket or two.
3b | ADP 203
Yandy Diaz came into the 2019 season not as a sleeper candidate, but as a breakout candidate. His average exit velocity, hard-hit percent, and plate discipline were all considered “elite’ and the fantasy world was excited for him to get regular at-bats with his new team, the Tampa Bay Rays. After the first month of the 2019 season, we were not disappointed. Diaz was the biggest breakout candidate in baseball and was absolutely crushing the ball. His .990 OPS, 158 wRC+ and 1.1 fWAR were good enough for fifth amongst all qualified 3b and he was proving to be a draft-day steal in the fantasy world.
Then the month of May, and with-it…reality, set in. Diaz was no longer crushing the ball and his production literally disappeared. His .990 OPS dropped to .597, 158 wRC+ dropped to 57 and his month officially ended on May 19 when he took a Chance Adams fastball off the wrist and was placed on the IL.
Diving into his numbers for the month, it appears that Diaz became impatient at the plate, lost his feel for the strike zone and was a little unlucky too. His walk rate dropped down to 4.5% (14.9% in May / 10.1% 2019 season) and while his 50% hard-hit rate was considered elite (5/47 amongst 3b for the month) he wasn’t turning those hard-hit balls into home runs (his 28% fly-ball rate ranked him 43/47 amongst 3b for the month). However, it may not have been entirely his fault. I mentioned above that the month of May was unlucky for Diaz and not just because he landed on the IL. All of his expected ratio stats were higher than what he achieved during the month. Not only were they higher, but they were higher by a significant margin.
While he was still hitting the ball hard, he just wasn’t hitting it at the right angle, causing those loud hits to be loud outs. In the month of May, Diaz had an average launch angle of six degrees. To give some context, in 2019 there were 175 qualified hitters (300 BBE) and only seven of them had an average launch angle below Diaz’s six degrees.
The production yo-yo of Yandy Diaz continued in June where he saw his numbers normalize. He wasn’t putting up top-five 3b numbers, but he settled in, found his groove and ended up with what I consider to be his most useful 2019 month for 2020 predictions. He brought his June walk rate up to 8%, wRC+ to 136 and his OPS to .886. And while his OPS and wRC+ got a boost from a .368 BABIP, they were certainly more in-line with the breakout many had predicted before the start of the season. The one red flag that still remained was his launch angle. Which did improve, but just from six degrees in May to seven degrees in June. In the year of the home-run, Yandy Diaz was hitting the ball on the ground.
His regular-season essentially ended on July 22 with the hairline fracture of his left foot as a result of a foul ball. His 2019 season was good, not great (.816 OPS / 116 wRC+ / 1.5 fWAR) and could have even been considered forgettable had it not been for his performance in the American League Wild-Card game. Diaz went 3-4 with two home runs and reminded us all of the fantasy stud he was just a few short months ago.
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So the big question looms, which Yandy Diaz is going to show up for the 2020 season? Will it be the Yandy Diaz of April who hit the ball hard and hit the ball often? Or will it be the Yandy Diaz of May who hit the ball directly at the opposing team? I think we can all agree Diaz will fall somewhere in-between the two extremes and the Yandy Diaz of June will be a reasonable facsimile. That being said, if he can increase his launch angle and stay healthy for a full-season, I think Yandy Diaz has all-star potential, which is no small feat given the depth of the position in 2020. While there are some red-flags surrounding Diaz coming into 2020, the potential upside he brings makes him a potential draft-day steal (again) and hopefully one that continues to be so throughout the entire season.
Next up…Austin Hays